Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Be like Spider Man, minus the masked vigilante part

If you've been to a community meeting concerning crime and public safety (and chances are you haven't), chances are you've heard someone in law enforcement extol the importance of cooperation between police and civilians.

Usually the civilian head of the meeting tells the assembly that the community is the "eyes and ears" of the police department, and they need us to help them. The commanding officer of the precinct recites the mantra, "if you see something, say something." A representative from the district attorney's office implores community members to come forward and work with the police and prosecutors to ensure that those arrested are properly charged, rather than turned loose.

The rhetoric hit a new level at a meeting Tuesday night of the 88th Police Precinct Community Council. The head of the NYPD's Community Affairs Bureau (and highest uniformed black officer in the department) Chief Philip Banks III, exhorted the need for active community participation in ensuring the safety of their streets.

"Look at the story of Peter Parker," Mr. Banks said, entirely without irony or humor.

"He saw a robbery going on, and he didn't lift a finger to stop it. He just sat quiet. And then what happened? That same robber came back, and killed his stepfather [sic]. He did nothing, he sat quiet, and he paid a price," he said.

"We need to learn from the story of Peter Parker," Mr. Banks said.

Mangling the backstory of a Marvel super hero might have been safer ground for the head of Community Affairs. He didn't venture into the flashpoint issue of the NYPD's controversial "stop, question, and frisk" policy targeting black and Hispanic men in poor neighborhoods, and how it might fray the relations between a community and the police.

It might be a subject too close to Banks; his predecessor in Community Affairs (also then the highest ranking black officer in the NYPD), Chief Douglas Zeigler, was sitting in his department-issued SUV in 2008 when two white plainclothes officers rolled up on him and "dealt with the chief in a discourteous manner." Hey, check out the handsome man on that byline!

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